Shooting victims in Penticton, B.C., remembered before vigil at city park

PENTICTON, B.C. — Family and friends are remembering neighbours who were gunned down in Penticton as the small city in British Columbia’s south Okanagan held a vigil Wednesday for the four victims.

Jeff Schwarz says his uncle Rudi Winter, 71, was a gentle person who liked to keep the peace.

“Rudi wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s the most calm, peaceful guy you’d ever meet. If there was a confrontation, he wouldn’t address it,” he said, adding that Winter “pretty much” raised him.

Winter was fatally shot on Monday while helping a friend with some yard work in downtown Penticton. Soon after, another man and two women in their 60s and 70s were shot in a residential neighbourhood, RCMP said.

Supt. Ted De Jager said a suspect walked into the Penticton RCMP detachment and surrendered about one hour after police first received a report of a possible shooting.

John Brittain, 68, a former employee in the city’s engineering department, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. None of the allegations against him has been tested in court.

A lawyer who represented Brittain during a court appearance on Tuesday could not immediately be reached for comment.

Neighbours of Barry and Susan Wonch, who a family member confirmed were also victims of the shootings, described the retired couple as warm and friendly people.

The Wonches moved to Penticton from Osoyoos in recent years, said Wally Murphy.

“They were probably the best neighbours we ever had,” said Murphy, adding he knew Barry for 14 years.

“I knew where the tools were in his garage and he knew where the tools were in mine.”

John Maxwell lived across the street from the Wonches in Osoyoos before they moved to Penticton.

He said Susan was a wonderful cook and the couple liked to organize neighbourhood parties.

“They were both the nicest people you could ever, ever ask to be with. When we went over, they really made you feel like somebody,” he said.

More than 100 people gathered in a downtown park for a candlelight vigil Wednesday night.

Organizers said the event was intended as a way for community members to support one another through the tragedy.

Kim Kirkham, executive director of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said the small city of 34,000 nestled between two lakes and rolling mountains is having trouble coming to terms with the violence.

“Any store I walk into — restaurants, coffee shops — people are talking about it. It’s affected everyone,” she said.

“Penticton’s not very big, so you either knew them or you know somebody who knew them. It’s a tough thing to fathom, happening in our small community.”

Matthew Baran, executive director of the Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton, said it’s not uncommon for the community to rally behind others in times of tragedy.

“It’s a very caring community organically, that’s just normal,” he said.

He said the friendship centre already offers different types of healing support so it seemed natural to organize the vigil with the local chamber of commerce.

“We’re a strong community and this is part of the process of how we will rise up from this,” he said.

Members of the crowd raised candles in the air and embraced one another as some of the community’s leaders gave brief addresses.

Some said came to show support for the children of the victims. Gina Hansinger went to high school with one of the victim’s sons, while Bernie Burger said he works with Winter’s daughter.

“As a friend I was glad to see her, to show my support,” he said.

Carleen and Gordon Dyck said they came to give the family support even though they didn’t know them.

“We’re just devastated at the idea of what can happen in a beautiful town like Penticton and realize how much stress and anxiety there is in the world today,” she said.

Carrie Crossman said she grew up in Penticton and the violence was unprecedented.

“I think everyone’s feeling the same way, shocked, just senseless,” she said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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